Who Were the Nephilim and Sons of God?
by Rich Deem

Introduction

There is somewhat of a controversy in Christianity regarding the identification of the Nephilim and sons of God mentioned in the Genesis flood account (Genesis 6:2-4). Are the sons of God the human offspring of the godly line of Seth or angelic beings (demons)? Were the Nephilim a race of giants that existed before and after the flood or is the word just a generic term describing large strong people?

Nephilim and sons of God: Genesis 6

Let's look at the passage in question, in context:

Now it came about, when men began to multiply on the face of the land, and daughters were born to them, that the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose. Then the LORD said, "My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, because he also is flesh; nevertheless his days shall be one hundred and twenty years." The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown. Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. (Genesis 6:1-5)

The passage describes the Nephilim as being "men" twice, using two different Hebrew words. It does not use the Hebrew words used to describe angels ("angels," "cherubim," and "seraphim"). It's pretty obvious from the context that God was not happy about what was going on between the sons of God, the Nephilim, and the daughters of men. Let's go on to examine how other biblical passages use these terms.

Sons of God

Unfortunately, the phrase "sons of God" appears in only five verses from only two books of the Old Testament. Two verses are found in the Genesis 6 flood account. The other three verses are found in the book of Job. From the book of Job, the context clearly indicates that "sons of God" are angelic beings, since they enter directly into God's presence1 or existed before the creation of the earth.2 Although the phrase "sons of God" does not reference human beings in the Old Testament, similar phrases, such as "sons of the Most High" and "sons of the living God" do make reference to godly human beings.3 In the New Testament "sons of God" always refer to redeemed human beings.4 It would be very unlikely that ungodly demons would ever be referred to as "sons of God."

The giants (Nephilim)

The Hebrew word used to describe the Nephilim occurs in only two verses of the Old Testament, one in our passage from Genesis 6 and the other in the book of Numbers.5 From the book of Numbers, we find that the descendants of Anak are part of the Nephilim.6 Since Anak was a Canaanite,7 it would be logical to assume that the Nephilim were human, rather than angelic. The verses tell us little about the people, other than they were strong and tall and lived in fortified cities. Were these Nephilim the same as the Nephilim of Genesis 6? Contrary to the beliefs of many, Nephilim does not describe a race of peoples. In the Bible, races of people groups were designated by their founding male ancestor. So, the Anakim were descendent of Anak. However, the Nephilim are never described as being descended from anybody. The term actually means "giants,"8 being derived from the Hebrew word nephal, which means to "fall upon" or "overthrow," referring to their warlike nature.9 Since the Old Testament describes Nephilim both before and after the flood, if the Nephilim were a race then it would contradict the rest of Scripture, which indicates pretty clearly that there were only eight survivors of the flood.10

Demonic or angelic beings?

Some Christian have speculated that the "sons of God" from Genesis 6 were demonic beings, who had sexual relations with human women, and are now condemned to future judgment.11 However, Jesus made it clear that angels are asexual beings who do not engage in sexual relations at all.12 Since demons are merely fallen angels,13 they would, likewise, be unable to procreate with women. Some apocryphal books, such as the book of Enoch14 and book of Jubilees,15 indicate that the Nephilim were fallen angels. However, these books make some outrageous claims, saying that the giants were 450 feet tall!14

Theological problems as demons

There are a number of theological problems with the idea that the Nephilim were demons. First and foremost, there are no biblical accounts of any demon taking on human form. By nature, all angels are spiritual, non-physical creatures.16 All biblical accounts record only obedient angels appearing to human beings. It is never stated that angels have the power to take on human bodily substance (which would be required in order to produce children with human females). Jesus suggested that angles lack the ability to take on human substance, when explaining His bodily resurrection to the disciples:

While they were telling these things, He Himself stood in their midst and said to them, "Peace be to you." But they were startled and frightened and thought that they were seeing a spirit. And He said to them, "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? "See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have." And when He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet. (Luke 24:36-40)

So, Jesus indicated that all appearances of angels were not bodily appearances, but merely visual apparitions. If you were to try to touch an angel, your hand would just go through the apparition. Such a manifestation would be incapable of impregnating a human female.

If demons did have the ability to produce offspring through intercourse, one would expect that this would be the major way in which demons would attempt to take control of the human race. Instead, one finds that demons can use only deception17 or possession18 as ways to attempt to thwart the ministry of Christ.

Conclusion Top of page

Since the Bible indicates that angels are asexual beings, it makes sense that they could not be the "sons of God" who produced children with the "daughters of men." The best interpretation is that the "sons of God" were men who were descended from Seth, who followed the Lord for a time (in contrast to the line of Cain, which produced the "daughters of men").19 However, right before the flood, even the "sons of God" took wives among the line of Cain, and, therefore, became corrupted themselves through their unbelieving wives. This is one of the reasons God determined to destroy the entire human race, except for the eight people who still followed the Lord (Noah and his extended family).

Genesis 6 also describes the Nephilim, who were the corrupt strongmen of their time, notorious for their violent exploits (Genesis 6:4). These men were probably also descendants of Cain, who were terrorizing the peoples and represented at least part of the group whose thoughts were "only evil continually." The Nephilim that were described after the flood were also evil strongmen, but not related to those pre-flood people, since they were all destroyed in the flood.


References Top of page

  1. Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them. (Job 1:6)
    Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them to present himself before the LORD. (Job 2:1)
  2. When the morning stars sang together And all the sons of God shouted for joy? (Job 38:7)
  3. I said, "You are gods, And all of you are sons of the Most High. (Psalms 82:6)
    Yet the number of the sons of Israel Will be like the sand of the sea, Which cannot be measured or numbered; And in the place Where it is said to them, "You are not My people," It will be said to them, "You are the sons of the living God." (Hosea 1:10)
  4. "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. (Matthew 5:9)
    for neither can they die anymore, for they are like angels, and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. (Luke 20:36)
    For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. (Romans 8:14)
    For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. (Romans 8:19)
    For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:26)
  5. "There also we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak are part of the Nephilim); and we became like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight." (Numbers 13:33)
  6. When they had gone up into the Negev, they came to Hebron where Ahiman, Sheshai and Talmai, the descendants of Anak were. (Now Hebron was built seven years before Zoan in Egypt.) (Numbers 13:22)
    "Nevertheless, the people who live in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large; and moreover, we saw the descendants of Anak there. (Numbers 13:28)
    a people great and tall, the sons of the Anakim, whom you know and of whom you have heard it said, 'Who can stand before the sons of Anak?' (Deuteronomy 9:2)
    Now he gave to Caleb the son of Jephunneh a portion among the sons of Judah, according to the command of the LORD to Joshua, namely, Kiriath-arba, Arba being the father of Anak (that is, Hebron). (Joshua 15:13)
    And Caleb drove out from there the three sons of Anak: Sheshai and Ahiman and Talmai, the children of Anak. (Joshua 15:14)
    Thus they gave them Kiriath-arba, Arba being the father of Anak (that is, Hebron), in the hill country of Judah, with its surrounding pasture lands. (Joshua 21:11)
    Then they gave Hebron to Caleb, as Moses had promised; and he drove out from there the three sons of Anak. (Judges 1:20)
  7. Brown-Driver-Briggs' Hebrew Definitions:
    ânâq Anak (Strong's H6061)
    1. progenitor of a family, or tribe of the giant people in Canaan
    Part of Speech: noun proper masculine
    A Related Word by BDB/Strong’s Number: the same as H6060
  8. Brown-Driver-Briggs' Hebrew Definitions:
    nephîyl/nephil nephiyl (Strong's H5303)/nephil (Strong's H5303) (Strong's H5303)
    1. giants, the Nephilim
    Part of Speech: noun masculine
    A Related Word by BDB/Strong’s Number: from H5307
    Same Word by TWOT Number: 1393a
  9. Brown-Driver-Briggs' Hebrew Definitions:
    nâphal naphal  (Strong's H5307) (Strong's H5307)
    1. to fall, lie, be cast down, fail
      1. (Qal)
        1. to fall
        2. to fall (of violent death)
        3. to fall prostrate, prostrate oneself before
        4. to fall upon, attack, desert, fall away to, go away to, fall into the hand of
        5. to fall short, fail, fall out, turn out, result
        6. to settle, waste away, be offered, be inferior to
        7. to lie, lie prostrate
      2. (Hiphil)
        1. to cause to fall, fell, throw down, knock out, lay prostrate
        2. to overthrow
        3. to make the lot fall, assign by lot, apportion by lot
        4. to let drop, cause to fail (figuratively)
        5. to cause to fall
      3. (Hithpael)
        1. to throw or prostrate oneself, throw oneself upon
        2. to lie prostrate, prostrate oneself
      4. (Pilel) to fall
    Part of Speech: verb
    A Related Word by BDB/Strong’s Number: a primitive root
    Same Word by TWOT Number: 1392
  10. "For as in those days which were before the flood they were eating and drinking, they were marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so shall the coming of the Son of Man be. (Matthew 24:38-39)
    they were eating, they were drinking, they were marrying, they were being given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. (Luke 17:27)
    By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith. (Hebrews 11:7)
    who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water. (1 Peter 3:20)
    and did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a preacher of righteousness, with seven others, when He brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; (2 Peter 2:5)
  11. And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day, (Jude 1:6)
    For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment; (2 Peter 2:4)
  12. On that day some Sadducees (who say there is no resurrection) came to Him and questioned Him, saying, "Teacher, Moses said, 'IF A MAN DIES, HAVING NO CHILDREN, HIS BROTHER AS NEXT OF KIN SHALL MARRY HIS WIFE, AND RAISE UP AN OFFSPRING TO HIS BROTHER.' "Now there were seven brothers with us; and the first married and died, and having no offspring left his wife to his brother; so also the second, and the third, down to the seventh. "And last of all, the woman died. "In the resurrection therefore whose wife of the seven shall she be? For they all had her." But Jesus answered and said to them, "You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures, or the power of God. "For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. (Matthew 22:23-30)
  13. Then another sign appeared in heaven: and behold, a great red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads were seven diadems. And his tail swept away a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth... And there was war in heaven, Michael and his angels waging war with the dragon. The dragon and his angels waged war, and they were not strong enough, and there was no longer a place found for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. (Revelation 12:3, 7-9)
  14. And the women conceiving brought forth giants, Whose stature was each three hundred cubits. These devoured all which the labor of men produced; until it became impossible to feed them; When they turned themselves against men, in order to devour them; And began to injure birds, beasts, reptiles, and fishes, to eat their flesh one after another, and to drink their blood. (Enoch 7:11-14)
  15. "And it came to pass when the children of men began to multiply on the face of the earth and daughters were born unto them, that the angels of God saw them on a certain year of this jubilee, that they were beautiful to look upon; and they took themselves wives of all whom they chose, and they bare unto them sons and they were giants. (Jubilees 5:1-2)
  16. But to which of the angels has He ever said, "SIT AT MY RIGHT HAND, UNTIL I MAKE YOUR ENEMIES A FOOTSTOOL FOR YOUR FEET"? Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation? (Hebrews 1:13-14)
  17. "You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. (John 8:44)
    And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Corinthians 4:3-4)
    But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ. (2 Corinthians 11:3)
    No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds. (2 Corinthians 11:14-15)
    the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. (1 John 3:8)
    Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. (1 John 4:1)
    And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. (Revelation 12:9)
  18. When evening came, they brought to Him many who were demon-possessed; and He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were ill. (Matthew 8:16)
    When He came to the other side into the country of the Gadarenes, two men who were demon-possessed met Him as they were coming out of the tombs. They were so extremely violent that no one could pass by that way. (Matthew 8:28)
    As they were going out, a mute, demon-possessed man was brought to Him. (Matthew 9:32)
    Then a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute was brought to Jesus, and He healed him, so that the mute man spoke and saw. (Matthew 12:22)
    And a Canaanite woman from that region came out and began to cry out, saying, "Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed." (Matthew 15:22)
    When evening came, after the sun had set, they began bringing to Him all who were ill and those who were demon-possessed. (Mark 1:32)
    The scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, "He is possessed by Beelzebul," and "He casts out the demons by the ruler of the demons." (Mark 3:22)
    They came to Jesus and observed the man who had been demon-possessed sitting down, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the "legion"; and they became frightened. (Mark 5:15)
    Those who had seen it described to them how it had happened to the demon-possessed man, and all about the swine. (Mark 5:16)
    As He was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed was imploring Him that he might accompany Him. (Mark 5:18)
    And one of the crowd answered Him, "Teacher, I brought You my son, possessed with a spirit which makes him mute; (Mark 9:17)
    In the synagogue there was a man possessed by the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, (Luke 4:33)
    and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and sicknesses: Mary who was called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, (Luke 8:2)
    And when He came out onto the land, He was met by a man from the city who was possessed with demons; and who had not put on any clothing for a long time, and was not living in a house, but in the tombs. (Luke 8:27)
    Those who had seen it reported to them how the man who was demon-possessed had been made well. (Luke 8:36)
    Others were saying, "These are not the sayings of one demon-possessed. A demon cannot open the eyes of the blind, can he?" (John 10:21)
  19. Cain gave rise to a line that was more murderous than himself. Lamech threatened his wives by telling them that he murdered a man and a boy, along with potentially another ten people:
    Lamech said to his wives, "Adah and Zillah, Listen to my voice, You wives of Lamech, Give heed to my speech, For I have killed a man for wounding me; And a boy for striking me; If Cain is avenged sevenfold, Then Lamech seventy-sevenfold." (Genesis 4:23-24)

Reflections
We are what we think.

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Last Modified February 7, 2014

 

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